An alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces has liberated the city of Manbij from the "Islamic State" militant group. But as fighters fled the city, some reportedly used hundreds of kidnapped civilians as "human shields."
The self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) militant group on Friday kidnapped around 2,000 civilians to use as "human shields" as they fled from their stronghold of Manbij in northern Syria, according to a spokesman for US-backed forces in the city.
"While withdrawing from a district of Manbij, Daesh jihadists abducted around 2,000 civilians from al-Sirb neighborhood," said Sherfan Darwish, a spokesman for the Manbij Military Council (MMC), calling the militant group by its Arabic acronym.
"They used these civilians as human shields as they withdrew to Jarabulus, thus preventing us from targeting them," Darwish said, referring to one of the few remaining towns near the Turkish border still held by the militant group.
However, Darwish added that some 2,500 civilians "held captive by the jihadists were saved" by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces, including the MMC.
The SDF announced the liberation of the city on Friday, saying the militants' final bastion in Manbij was "cleansed of the gangs."
EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini welcomed the SDF's victory and vowed continued support.
"The recent military advances against Daesh by the global coalition, together with the Syrian Democratic Forces in northwest Syria, are welcome and the EU will continue to commit its efforts, as part of the coalition, to its non-military fields of activity," she said in a statement.
In May, the SDF launched a major offensive against IS in the northern Syrian city, aided by airstrikes conducted by the US-led coalition against the militant group.
By June, the US-backed forces surrounded the city. However, they were met with a series of setbacks as the militant group fought back using suicide bombers and car bombs.
Earlier this month, the SDF said it had cleared 90 percent of the city, with US-led coalition spokesman Brett McGurk saying the militant group's defenses had been degraded "in what had been a citadel for foreign terrorists."
Manbij served as a key transit point in the IS supply route from the Turkish border to Raqqa, the group's Syrian hub.
The militant group shocked the world when it took control of large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014, including Mosul, Iraq's third largest city.
ls/msh (AFP, dpa)